Alphaville (1965)

Jean Luc Godard

On the surface, the plot of Alphaville can be placed in a line of films driven by an Orwellian struggle against repression of the individual (Metropolis, Brazil, Dune, the majority of Twilight Zone episodes). Lemmy Caution is sort of like Paul Atraides, an outsider come to undo a regime thats needs undoing (the navigators of the Space Guild).

“You are transparent. I see plans within plans. You must share….”

– Floating Navigator in Dune

“I see there is something you are hiding...But for now, you are free.”

– Alpha 60

The navigators have made up their minds. Paul is to be killed, but for now, he too, is free. The navigators lose, ultimately, but it is not for lack of trying. Alpha 60, on the other hand, seems so incompetent in stopping Lemmy it begs the question whether deep down it wants to lose. This unmotive is echoed by the practically disturbing indifference of Professor Von Braun to his own demise. If this interpretation is valid, then Godard suggests the possibility for change lies within the very heart of the autocracy itself. The external force is merely the instrument of that change. A quite romantic and unusual notion. Is this what we saw in South Africa? Or did they just get tired? (They were always outnumbered?) And does this whole business about giving up not anticipate Rutger Hauer’s final (and ambiguously magnanimous) end-actions in Blade Runner?

In fact the more I watch Alphaville, the more I am reminded of Blade Runner. Both films draw strength from some basic romantic poetry. Alphaville has more of it. For better or worse. Could be a French thing. They tried having more poetry in Blade Runner, but Rutger Hauer’s contract allowed for only a certain number of words, and Harrison Ford couldn’t say the lines with a straight face. As what good American could? But there is a lot of decent crappy poetry in Alphaville.

Something else to note about Alphaville is the very forcefully romantic, eleven note melody that plays whenever Ana Karina lowers her head.

“Ok — good images, especially at start (the shot of him in the glass elevator, from the outside: the first mural after the credits.) Anna Karina: yes. Great. The first hour: interesting. The second hour: dragged. ideas: a mish mash of standard technocracy/orwellian dystopian stuff. The emotions, love, poetry: good. Machines: bad. Obvious, simplistic. The attempt to be futuristic: utterly unsucessful. The voice of the Alpha 60: really irritating after a while. Overall, glad I saw, but not great.” – t

And so is Alphaville good? Bad? Irritating? I really don’t know. But I believe there is just raw truth in a lot of things (a talk on nanoparticles by a Nobel scientist, a color scheme by Ozu). And with Alphaville, Godard gives us some of this truth.

“i didn't really like Alphaville much- i liked contempt and breathless, but that one not so much” – Clare

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